For most of North America and Europe, winter can put people into quite a predicament. Do you go outside, brave the cold weather, and enjoy what this world has to offer, or do you stay inside where it's nice and warm? Well, 49Games is hoping its motion-controlled game Winter Stars gives you the ability to enjoy some of the coolest winter sports around and not have to leave the warmth of your living room. While there are some interesting sports to play around with, the inconsistent controls, the length of some events, and a pretty uninteresting career mode mean Winter Stars won't be the reason you choose to stay inside.
Winter Stars starts you off as Jake, a downhill skier who suffers a very bad spill on the course and is put out of commission. When he returns, he discovers that his team has lost all its sponsors and most of its athletes. Now, he and those who are left must compete in a series of events, recruit other athletes, and try to take the title of the best team around.
The career mode is broken up into two parts: cups and challenges. The 16 cups have you competing in a number of different sporting activities, and the team with the highest score at the end of the events is declared the winner. For challenges, you must meet certain objectives to advance. These range from straightforward timed completion challenges to an abacus challenge where you need to add up the numbers that you pass by and then input the total. In between successfully completed events, you watch short, badly acted rendered cutscenes that move the shallow story forward. While mixing up challenges and cup events is nice in principle, the format of the career mode is poorly implemented. Early on, the first two cups you complete are identical outside of the fact that the second one contains one fewer event than the first. On top of that, the third cup then introduces only one new sport.
With almost a dozen sports available, the slow, gradual introduction of new activities in the career mode is an odd move. There is a wide range of different winter sports available from indoor events like figure skating and curling to outdoor ones like paraskiing and bobsled. The variety of sports is great for those craving more than the usual skiing mode seen in other motion-controlled games, but the unresponsive controls for most events hamper the experience.
The biathlon runs well, especially when you use your arms to mimic the rifle. Aiming is extremely responsive, and in most races, hitting all or most of the targets is possible. The controls in short track speed skating also work well and only require you to move your arms in a striding motion to skate around the arena.
On the other hand, three of the four skiing events and the snowmobile race all control extremely poorly. For both downhill and freestyle skiing, moving your torso left or right nearly always results in the character moving too much in that direction. Then in paraskiing, sometimes the skier goes up a mountain rather than down it. However, seeing the jet stream intended to push the character downward and being able to go against it is more comical than frustrating. A similar situation occurs during some snowmobile races where your vehicle changes direction without notice.
To combat some of the control issues, Winter Stars does include a family mode, which requires only the most basic of motions. For most events, performing simple hand gestures, crouching, or running in place are the only movements necessary to participate and do well. While the inclusion of this mode is nice, it takes most of the fun out of playing.
If you so choose, family controls can also be used in the career mode, and this almost always results in a first place finish. Oddly though, while the family mode control scheme is available, all challenges must be played using the standard motion controls. If family controls are meant to give casual people the opportunity to have fun, forcing a person to play a good chunk of the game with regular controls is an odd gameplay choice.
For a compilation sports title, some of sports available in Winter Stars run a lot longer than some may be accustomed to. Bobsled, short track speed skating, and figure skating generally take only a few minutes to complete, but a curling event can last around 15 minutes. Even the length of an average biathlon race can last about 10 minutes. This is a multiplayer-focused game and the activities here should be completed in a short amount of time in order to keep the attention of those playing.
There are a few multiplayer modes available, both offline and on. Unfortunately, the online rooms for Winter Stars were completely empty, but if you have people around your living room, setting up a cup is pretty easy. There are a few prepared cups that offer different lengths of events and sports. But if you want to create your own customized cup, that option is available as well. Again, some of these events take a while to finish, so if you plan on playing curling with others, be sure to block out 20 to 30 minutes to complete that single event.
If the inclusion of a career mode was meant to give this more longevity, then a more streamlined path, a better introduction of new sports and a more interesting story could have made it much more enjoyable. While the large number of winter events available is nice, and some work really well, they are overshadowed by the ones that don't.